Why Have a Website?

As a small business owner, you might be thinking about the web as a marketing tool.  Maybe you already have a website, but so far it costs more that it makes or achieves. 
You have probably heard stories from others saying that the web costs too much and is very time consuming.  Well the web is not going away and there are some very compelling reasons why you should be online.

In relation to other marketing communications tools the web is very cheap.  All you need is a registered domain name, web hosting facility and a software program to build your site.  The total cost is a lot less than placing an advertisement (once off) in most print and offline electronic media.  Also a web site is available to customers 24/7.
More and more people these days are turning to the net for information.  Can you ignore such a powerful communication tool as part of your overall marketing plan?

Communication tool
The web is a very effective communications tool.  Its quick and its cheap.
Consider this scenario. You have a new product launch and you have printed up thousands of brochures and created specific web page. Now, horror, some information has to be changed such as a phone number or pricing.
With a web page its a simple matter to change the information and be back online with the updated information very quickly and very cheaply.  But its not so easy or cheap to fix the brochure and add to that how much they would have cost to design and print.  Yes the web can be a very cost effective medium.
You can use your website to communicate with suppliers, resellers and customers.  Some of the uses of the web would include; 
Email marketing to reduce direct mail costs.  You just cant beat the economies of the web.  For example to follow up 1,000 customers with direct mail will cost $500.00 in postage alone (Australian example), but with email the cost is negligible, almost free!  And with email you can interact with your customers on a regular basis.  Thats priceless.
Get valuable customer feedback using email or a feedback form on your website.  If you make it quick and easy for customers to use, you will get greater response. 
Convert your printed brochure or catalogue online.  For some businesses converting their brochures or catalogues online has saved them thousands of dollars in printing and mailing costs.  I have specifically used the word convert because simply copying your printed brochure to your web site is a big mistake.  You have to convert the printed brochure into a format for the web that is online friendly.  It also needs to be printer friendly as some people will always want a printed copy.

Serve Your Customers
A website is dynamic information can be updated at any time.  It is an ideal medium to interact with your customers, that makes it a lot more interesting for them and potentially very lucrative to you. 
You can use the web to save you money and human resources too.  In fact some businesses primary objective of being on the web is to cut costs.  If you maintain your sales and cut your cost your profits increase, and that is what its all about profit.
Here are some ways you can cut costs with a website.
Create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section so that potential customers can find answers to common questions.  If they do it on the website and not have to phone your business it saves you in human resources that could be doing something more productive. 
You can never know too much about your customers, why not create a poll or survey on your site to get valuable information about your web site visitors.  Market research using traditional means can be very expensive. 
You could also use your web site to promote special offers and so on as they can be quickly created and executed. It is an ideal way to use a time sensitive offer too.
These are just some ideas you could implement.  There is so much more that can be done.

Your Customers Are Online
More and more people are going online every day.  So it makes sense for you to have a web presence.  And make no mistake about it, your competition is either already online or planning to be.  And they will happily serve your customers needs if you do not. 
The web can produce results but simply having a web presence does not make it happen.  The web has to be part of your overall marketing plan and it needs resources just like any other marketing tool. 
If you want to survive in business in the long term you need to learn how to harness the potential of the web for your business, otherwise you will lose market share to your competitors.

Now What 
Listed below are a few questions you need to answer so that you can begin to put your website strategy in place.
The first thing you have to decide is Do we want to have a website? or put it another way  Can we afford not to have a web presence?
Assuming that you do, then the next questions is What are our objectives with this site?   
Having a website does not necessarily mean you expect it to increase sales.  You might want to use your website to cut costs, or use it as a communications medium only. 
Once you know what your objectives are you can build a site to deliver those objectives.  Then you need to incorporate the website into you marketing and business plan and allocate resources to effectively implement your online marketing strategy.

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